Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Either the hardship or the sweets made this evening special

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What feels like a lifetime ago, tickets for Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People hosted by Robin Ince and arranged by New Humanist magazine, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, came on sale. In an uncharacteristic flush of adulthood, I bought some for myself and two friends and promptly forgot about it for six months apart from the bits where I relentlessly nagged Chris to pay me back for her ticket because I am a tight-fisted Scrooge.

Then my other friend contracted the flu about two days before she was due to fly over from Ireland, because God hates Sandra D. I almost feel as if I should downplay what an excellent night it was to preserve some sense that she wasn’t missing much, but I doubt Sandra will take that lying down.

Oh, and then it snowed.

London doesn’t handle snow well. London takes snow in the same way that I take exams, which is to say that it freaks out at the first sign of it, then shuts down arbitrarily and in complete lack-of-correlation with the actual amount of white stuff that falls out of the sky. And then people buy a lot of bread for reasons that I still haven’t quite got to grips with yet.

I woke around noon to what felt like excruciating cold (my bedroom is the coldest room in the flat, and the place isn’t very well insulated) and discovered that white cold shit had fallen from the sky in a bid to ruin everything ever. My boyfriend left for his referee meeting (he’s a rollerderby ref. attached to the London Rollergirls) and texted back to inform me that the buses were buggered but apparently still running, but if I left enough time to get there I should be fine.

This turned out to be a lie; I stepped off the doorstep up to ankle-deep snow, and penguin-waddled down my break-your-neck slippery garden path (and promptly managed to fill my pocket with snow without noticing, which meant that getting my gloves out was an unpleasant experience); the bus stop display informed me there was a bus due in ten minutes. I walked to the next bus stop just to be on the safe side; after a five minute walk it was also showing ten minutes, at which point a woman popped out of the nearby shop and informed me she’d seen no buses for the last hour.

I was on my way to the third stop when my boyfriend told me he’d walked to the tube station.

So I set off at as close to a trot as one can on an ice-and-snow-packed pavement, when one has knackered knees and relatively worn Doc Martens, and, being a slave to the correct soundtrack, plopped the iPod on Fall Out Boy’s cover of “Beat It”. Feel free to mock me for my appalling choices, but that and subsequently high-speed, purposeful songs got me down to the nearest tube station without falling, stopping for breath, or calling anyone a C-word on my way. And that was exercise in the cold and those are two things I really do not normally have any truck with. I am one of nature’s extremely potato-esque couch potatoes, for god’s sake. I break out in tantrums if I have to so much as look at a walk of more than the length of my road.

And that is the story of my “brave trek through the snow”, which was slush by the time I reached Warren Street. The moral of the story is always have an iPod and a good book with you. And wrap up warm!

Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

As friend and reviewer at the Spectator blogs, Rose Watt, is either going to be writing about tonight’s show or Tuesday’s, I don’t feel it’s quite fair to go on about the entire line-up. Also my memory for names is bad, I ate an entire bucket of sweets beforehand and had a sugar crash in the middle of Robyn Hitchcock‘s set in which I got so relaxed that I started dreaming about hedgehogs, and I’m really lazy.

Highlights, then, of this year’s Godless, for me:

Robin Ince: Always an experience, Robin seems perpetually on the verge of a sleep-deprivation-linked nervous breakdown, leaping from subject to subject as if he is unable to keep track of all the very important things he has to tell you, waving his arms and recounting anecdotes from his life, episodes of science history, irritants from the media, and nuggets of information expressed with a kind of breathless enthusiasm for ideas that is extremely contagious. All while making one laugh like an idiot (the man in front of me glared several times and eventually walked out, so evidently not everyone finds him as funny as I do). At previous shows he’s run over time and had to leave several things hanging, but this time he just about managed to reign it in. A pity in some respects as I can quite easily listen to Robin Ince talk about almost anything for two hours on his own.

Frisky and Mannish: A dissection of pop songs, in this case during a festive event, Christmas pop songs. I have seen Frisky and Mannish before, at The Portrait of Dorian Grey, a caberet/vaudeville variety event centring on MC Dusty Limits and his prodigious ego, on my birthday a couple of years ago. In a bizarre coincindence, at that event they were, if memory serves, preceeded by Mr Limits talking about a book he’d read recently about the sexual habits of bonobos; at this evening’s events, they were preceeded by Mr Ince talking about … the sexual habits of bonobos. Of course, as pointed out by Matt Parker earlier in the show in his data analysis section (I promise it was funnier than those words make it sound), stunning coincidences are shocking and meaningful when they happen to us, but they’re not really meaningful in a wider context.

To be honest I’m not sure I’d want to know about a wider meaning to a link between Frisky & Mannish and the sexual habits of bonobos, and I’m not sure they would either.

Mark Thomas: I have been a fan of Mark Thomas since my mid-teens, when he was still appearing on TV often enough for me to see him, and I own the book from which he was theoretically reading this evening. Like so many of the acts, I felt that the constraints of the time limit robbed me of a potential couple of hours of fantastic comedy; while one or two acts were fine at the length they were, others were the kind I’d have preferred to savour over a few hours, and Mark Thomas was definitely one of them.

Simon Singh
: Answered my question on how he thinks the universe will end and therefore is the best person ever. I am … not an intelligent person, more someone who is just intelligent enough that she knows how much she doesn’t know, and I appreciate having very complex ideas broken down to a level that I can understand. Mr Singh has a talent for that.

Baba Brinkman: Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but I have a soft spot for high-velocity eloquence, and having recently become more interested in hip-hop than I was, I find the combination of good delivery, meter, and rhyme with principles that I approve of to be a good use of my ears. And I’m sure there’s something to be said for covering a Dead Prez song about inciting a race-based revolution and turning it into an inclusive song about how everyone comes from a common ancestor.

On the way home I discovered something of which people from less temperate nations are already aware, that fallen snow and a full moon are a recipe for fantastic visibility. I cut through the park behind my house, along a road which is usually as eerily dark as anywhere in London can manage with the omnipresent light pollution, and ended my night by dancing in the snow under a full moon to Emmy the Great. This is probably disgustingly twee, but I promise that I said the C-word a lot later to make up for it.

I leave you with this Richard Feynman quote lovingly read out by Robin Ince at this evening’s show:

There are the rushing waves…
mountains of molecules,
each stupidly minding its own business…
trillions apart
…yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages…
before any eyes could see…
year after year…
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
…on a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest…
tortured by energy…
wasted prodigiously by the sun…
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea,
all molecules repeat
the patterns of another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves…
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity…
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein…
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land…
here it is standing…
atoms with consciousness
…matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea…
wonders at wondering… I…
a universe of atoms…
an atom in the universe.

At which I, I am not ashamed to admit, teared up a bit. You’re welcome.

This post was contributed by Delilah

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Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

December 19, 2010 at 1:26 am

One Response

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  1. if you look at the name of the event I was going to London to attend, it shouldn’t be a surprise as to why a God and/or gods wouldn’t like me.

    anyway. I’m very much glad that you had a good night. and when Robin and co. do their science tour, I am MAKING IT OVER. f’reals.

    Sandra

    December 19, 2010 at 4:28 am


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